4-H judging

2022 June portrait, WYO Writers

Long after my 4-H days were over I judged demonstration days, special foods contests, dress revues and a myriad of project areas. Armed with degrees in home economics and French, the home ec came in handy while judging.

My judging took me to Newcastle and Lusk in Wyoming, Gordon and Chadron, Nebraska and several counties in South Dakota. The most challenging was judging foods. Not because they were so exquisite but let me say that after tasting 25 variations of chocolate chip cookies, a pickle looked mighty good! Only a tiny taste of any product was needed. Larger bites would have rendered the judge full after a short time. Outstanding in my memory is a beginning baking group whose members each made the same recipe of snickerdoodles out of the 4-H foods manual. Now you would think there would be consistency among the results, but no. I don’t know how, but they ranged from delicious and attractive to wondering of what substances they really were made.

Although it was a guideline I’d never heard of, another judge told a young 4-Her exactly how many chocolate chips were necessary for a proper chocolate chip cookie. It was news to me. I still wonder how she came to the conclusion.

Rules as to what had to be tasted varied by county. In some places judges were required to open every canning jar and taste the contents. Others allowed us to judge by visual appearance only. We looked, of course, to make sure the jar was sealed, for color, apparent firmness (the peaches hadn’t disintegrated into strings) and headspace. My most memorable canned item was a hot sauce aptly named “Hell in a Bottle” which was entered at the Weston County Fair in Newcastle. I still remember that the name was fitting. Fortunately, the volunteer judging assistant was from that county, and she knew what was coming. She had a nice piece of bread and a glass of iced tea standing by for me.

Dress revues are where the 4-Her sews and models before a team of judges who look at the fit, fashion and how artfully the sewing was done. After judging several of the same entrants for successive years it was fun to see how the seamstresses and their skills matured. Dress review’s other class is for selected outfits which is where the 4-H member purchases a garment and models it. In this class, judging also includes a report on cost.

One year I judged clothing at the South Dakota State Fair. Surprisingly, making the decisions weren’t as difficult as I had imagined at the state level. The exhibit quality was just as clear cut as on the county level. The low and high ends of the group were easy to determine and the closer judging went on in the middle level entries.

Counties seem to always be seeking judges for many projects from dog shows to arts and crafts, horticulture to rocketry.  If you have an area of expertise, call your county extension agent (now educator) to see if your skills can be used. You’ll meet kids who are the cream of the crop.

A national award winning columnist, Sanders’ internet latchstring is always out at

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